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Standup paddling is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Since the sport is accessible for nearly everyone close to water, it’s a fun way to find tune balance and strength all while exploring nearly any type of waterway.
Unfortunately, the community has seen multiple deaths of standup paddlers over few months, mostly due to paddlers going out in unsafe conditions or making mistakes that could’ve been preventable.
Here are ten things you can do to ensure your standup paddling experience is a fun and safe one while you’re out on the water.
Don’t paddle out in offshore winds
When wind is blowing offshore, from land out to sea, there is no way of getting back to shore should you have an accident or become too fatigued to keep standup paddling. Instead, you and your board will be blown out to see — possibly too far for others to find you.
How to prevent it: Check the wind and weather conditions before you enter the water. There are many apps like Weather.com, Surfline, Magic Seaweed, Windy, Seabreeze (Australia), Willy Weather, Tides Near Me, and many more. If you are unsure whether or not you can cope with paddling in offshore conditions, stay out of the water. Wear a paddle board leash and always paddle along the shoreline as a beginner standup paddler.
What to do if it happens to you: If you are caught in offshore winds, lay down on your stomach and paddle your standup paddle board to shore. This keeps you aerodynamic — standing turns you into a miniature sail — and prevents you from being blown back further than you can paddle. Place the paddle under your chest with the handle facing the nose of the board. Stay close to the board and paddle slowly and steadily until you reach shore.
If you are in open ocean, don’t abandon your board if you become too tired and assume you can tread water. Your board is your flotation and rescue device.
Never paddle out without safety gear
At the bare minimum, you should be standup paddling with a PFD (personal flotation device) and a leash. Not only is it illegal to paddle without these in many places, but it’s also dangerous. In many accidents over the past year, experienced paddlers died because they did not have a leash or PFD with them. Here are a few essential pieces of safety gear you should always have with you while you paddle.
Leash: Your leash is your lifeline in the chance that you get blown offshore or are injured and need a flotation device. Your paddle board helps others find you and keeps you afloat in case of an emergency. Ocean and lake standup paddlers should always wear a leash, no matter what. Standup paddlers who take their boards to river conditions should always wear a leash with a quick-release tab. Leashes wear out quickly, so check and replace them often.
Remember, Jack died. Rose lived.
PFD: There are a few types of PFDs — inflatable waist PFDs, inflatable chest PFDs, and full vest PFDs typically with a foam core. Generally speaking, the full life jackets are much safer than the inflatable versions as they require no extra effort to inflate and keep you safe. There are many PFDs on the market specifically crafted and catered to standup paddlers, so there’s no real reason not to invest in one. It’s a good idea to attach a whistle to the PFD for easy access in an emergency.
If you have an inflatable PFD, make sure you know how to use it and practice inflating.
GPS locator beacon or working phone: This is an essential for long distance paddlers who might go far offshore or might go in conditions that have limited visibility. A GPS locator beacon or working phone will alert others of your location if you’re in distress. There are many location sharing apps on the market that you can link to a friend or family member, even out of phone signal range.
Proper preparation: Sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and clothing will protect you against heatstroke. Likewise, warm clothing on cold paddle days will keep you toasty when exhaustion kicks in. Water is also a must.
Always inspect your gear for any signs of wear and tear. Leashes snap frequently and PFDs are prone to punctures. Charge your batteries, double check effectiveness, and remember that experienced paddlers have died from paddling out without safety gear.
Tell someone where you are paddling and when you plan to be back
Yeah, sure, you’re a strong independent woman who don’t need to report to nobody!
Telling someone where you’re paddling and when you’ll be back ensures that someone will come looking for you in the off-chance that something does go wrong. Even when you paddle with a buddy (smart!), it makes sense to tell someone land-bound your planned paddle course.
Practice safety drills
The more you practice your safety skills, the more second nature they’ll be if you ever get into an emergency. Practice drills like falling so that you don’t hit your board, recovering your paddle, towing a paddler, and paddling on your stomach against offshore winds. These drills take less than a few minutes to do, but build muscle memory and fine-tune your instincts.
Even better, consider taking a basic lifeguard course or first aid. These skills always come in handy for ocean athletes and you’ll always be ready if a SUP partner has an emergency.
Know how to navigate before going near boat traffic
Standup paddleboards — especially the larger boards like touring boards or racing boards — are not very agile or easy to move for beginner paddlers. It can take hours of practice to figure out how to turn and maneuver the standup paddleboard so that it goes exactly where you need it to. Never paddle in a busy harbor or near boat traffic until you’re absolutely confident that you can guide the paddleboard out of the way without falling.
Know how to tow a SUP buddy
Losing a paddle can happen to anyone. If this happens, it’s best to connect the paddleless person to your board with their least. You can create a safety chain by attaching their leash to your board’s leash plug or cord. The paddleless person lays on their board and holds onto the ankle strap while you tow them. This method keeps the paddleless person on their stomach, making them more aerodynamic and easier to tow.
If your buddy still has their paddle, have them put the paddle under their chest or next to them where it won’t blow away.